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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Populist announcements distort informed decision-making ability of voter: Modi government

Coming out in support of a public interest litigation seeking to curb the menace of freebies announced by political parties, the Narendra Modi government Wednesday told the Supreme Court that such “populist announcements distort the informed decision of the voter”.

Asking the court to “please do something about it”, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said “we are heading towards an economic disaster” if the freebie culture was not curbed.

The Election Commission of India can apply its mind, have a relook at its previous decision and submit suggestions to the court, he said.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, however, proposed setting up of an independent forum to examine the matter. The bench orally observed that it was not inclined to allow “a lengthy debate” on the subject in the court. CJI Ramana observed that the issue was “serious” and of “public importance where different stakeholders should be involved”.

The court recommended that an independent body be constituted, which may comprise different stakeholders such as the Reserve Bank of India, political parties including the opposition, Niti Aayog and others, to brainstorm on the issue and come up with constructive suggestions. It can then submit a collective report, giving suggestions to the court.

The top court asked the Centre and all the parties involved in the PIL to submit suggestions, within a week, for the composition of such a panel.

The court also urged senior lawyer Kapil Sibal for his suggestions on the matter. The PIL was filed by BJP spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

During the arguments, when one of the counsels suggested that there should be a debate in Parliament on the subject, Ramana quipped: “Which party will debate this in Parliament?”.

He said there was no political party which would object to announcing freebies and they all wanted to announce it. “This is the reality. Ultimately, the welfare of the taxpayer is important … these are policy matters … We are looking into the aspect of economy and not only about elections,” the CJI said.

He added that eventually the Centre and Election Commission would have to implement the suggestions that would come from the yet-to-be proposed independent body. The CJI said some people must look “dispassionately” into the matter in a “timebound manner”.

When asked for his opinion, senior lawyer Sibal (who was present in the Court) opined to keep the Election Commission out of the matter. Solicitor general Mehta objected to Sibal’s opinion, saying that “the majesty of the Election Commission should not be undermined”.

Mehta said the Centre would give constructive suggestions on the issue.

In his PIL, the petitioner sought registration of criminal cases against parties for luring voters through promises of freebies during elections.

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